Erstwhile dacoits’ present clout queers poll pitch in UP
In 1984, Congress candidate Bhishm Dev Dubey was in his central election office when many of his workers from remote parts of his constituency Chitrakoot-Banda arrived dishevelled.
The workers were deeply worried with the developments which unfolded in several villages in Markundi, Chitrakoot. Dacoit Shiv Kumar Dadua was terrorising villagers and asking people not to vote.
Dubey hadn’t come across an issue like this before and could offer no solution. He rushed to the telegraph office in Banda and shot off telegrams to the Election Commission of INDIA and union home ministry beseeching adequate measures to ensure free and fair elections.
This was the first instance when dacoits began interfering in the electoral process. In the next three decades, dacoits completely dominated the electoral landscape like they did the inhospitable Patha region.
‘Firmans’ (diktats) were read out in villages after villages to vote in favour of particular candidates be it for the Lok Sabha elections or that of the gram sabha. Examples were made out of those unwilling to toe the line —brutally murdered and bodies thrown in the open for others to see and heed.
“Every dacoit who emerged after Dadua, followed his political line religiously; it gave them the much needed cover against police operations; a direct say in government contracts, while the politicians got votes. It was quite a symbiotic relationship,” said Durgesh Yadav, a senior lawyer in Banda.
After spending decades with politicians of all hues, Dadua knew his terror and his support to politicians was not enough to guarantee his survival. “He knew he was ignominious and the politicians and their parties would cut him at the first instance,” said a UP Special Task Force officer. The UP STF killed him in 2007.
The dacoit with influence in 12 districts, prepared a template for his fraternity.
“Why support others, let us contest the elections indirectly and build political power and capital of our own; this was his thought and he implemented it at the micro level,” said Yadav who not only watched the mercurial rise of the dacoits but their fall as well.
A year-long sustained operation by the UP-STF saw him being killed on July 22, 2007. And a year later a fresh police dossier on his gang had collated some interesting information.
In the 332 gram sabhas of Chitrakoot district, Dadua’s relatives were controlling 200 of them. From his mother to his other relatives and their relatives all won on different positions in gram sabha elections. His brother Bal Kumar Patel first contested assembly election from Karchana in 2001 became an MP from Mirzapur and his son Ram Singh is an MLA.
Dadua’s son, Veer Singh, won from Patti while his wife, Mamta Singh, became a member of zila panchayat unopposed.
The family controlled all 62 gram sabhas in its fiefdom Markundi, where all relatives were pradhans or block pramukhs. “This scene hasn’t changed much in Chitrakoot even today,” said an STF officer, adding “the relatives in Fatehpur and even Mirzapur are controlling the gram sabhas.”
This network of relatives makes Dadua’s family a formidable force, which has considerable influence on Kurmi voters.
Ambika Patel ‘Thokia’, another key dacoit had many of his relatives elected from other gram sabhas. His mother, Rukma Devi, an elected Pradhan, lost the Naraini assembly seat to BSP’s Pushottam Dwivedi by just 4,000 votes. She had contested on a Rashtriya Lok Dal ticket, which was non-existent in Bundelkhand.
Sundar Patel ‘Balkhadiya’, Sudesh Kol ‘Ragiya’ were killed long after Dadua in 2015 and 2011, respectively but not before their families and relatives won gram sabha elections with their muscle power. Their close relatives made it as zila panchayat members and block pramukhs.
A candidate of a prominent party reveals it takes a lot of guts fighting election from this region even after dacoit gangs have largely faded away.
“I have to arrange a team of gunmen for remote villages; they form the protection detail of the people central to my election strategy; we cannot afford to have them bowing to diktats; it really costs a fortune,” he said, unwilling to be named. “At the same time, we have to pander to their relatives as they have become politically important and deeply involved in caste politics at the micro level,” he said.
At present, the Patha belt has three key dacoits: Babli Kol, Gauri Yadav and first woman dacoit Sadhna Patel.
They are not different from the predecessors and have been interfering in the elections in about 100 villages along the UP-MP border. And Babli Kol, many in Chitrakoot police fear, could try and play a Dadua in this general election. “His relatives too have contested won in the tribal belt of the region, Markundi and Fatehgunj in Banda.
In the 2017 assembly elections, this dacoit had publicly broken the hands and legs of a gram pradhan Genda Lal in Markundi, because he was campaigning for a candidate Kol did not want him to. “The gram pradhan remained in hospital for over a month,” said a police officer.
SP Chitrakoot Manoj Jha said that dacoits were a challenge for the police. “Sometimes you get success quickly; sometimes it takes time. We are combing the region like never before to exert pressure, the new strategy will definitely pay dividends and the region will be purged of their terror.”
Meanwhile, in the Chambal ravines, dacoits could not graduate to the level of their Patha counterparts in their dealings with politicians. Their role remained restricted to influencing panchayat-level elections along caste lines. Only one dacoit, Rajjan Gujjar, issued a ‘firman’ for a candidate contesting the Lakhna assembly seat in 1996. One of the oldest dacoits, Ram Asrey Phakkad, announced to loot a polling booth in support of a woman candidate in 1998 Lok Sabha elections but he did not. After the Behmai massacre in 1981, the Chambal ravines saw the fall of many dacoits like Shri Ram, Lala Ram, Baba Mustaqeem. It also witnessed the rise of Nirbhay Gujjar, Salim Pahalwan, Bhagwandeen ‘Paua-Pachas gram’, Rajjan Gujjar, Chandan, Jagjivan Parihar, Bhiku Mallah. These dacoits though loved to be seen as ‘Baghi’ were not more than petty criminals who earned well through kidnappings. “Their activities always kept the police hot on their heels. They were brutal in operations which is why they could not nurture a support base in 200 Chambal ravine villages,” said Vijay Shankar Singh, retired IG who served both in Patha and Chambal.